I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. – Joan Didion
Yesterday, as I was driving in to Charlottesville to visit the UVa Special Collections Library, I was the second car on the scene of a really terrible accident. A dump truck had blown a tire and veered off the road, and another car had careened off the road to avoid the dumptruck. The car’s airbags had deployed, and the driver was stunned. The truck driver was injured and trapped in the truck.
I did what I could do by relaying information to the young woman who was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. I stayed until the rescue crews arrived; I checked to be sure I wasn’t needed. Then I drove on into the city.
The accident didn’t involve anyone I knew; I wasn’t hurt; I didn’t even see the injured driver. Yet, still, I was shaken up a bit. I needed to talk to someone, so I pulled over and texted my friend John. He let me tell him about the accident, checked to be sure I was okay, and cheered me considerably.
Still, I needed to talk, so I called my dad, told him what happened, and asked him to pray. He listened and said he would.
Then, still, not fully through with processing this experienced, I texted my friend Jansen who told me that the diesel tank on the truck wouldn’t explode.
I breathed, pulled back onto the road, and went to the library where I spent a productive afternoon in research and silence.
I am a person that needs words to process things. I cannot simply think through something – I have to talk it out or write it out. And yet, I am also a person who enjoys being alone and finds that time alone to be necessary to write and live well. This is my paradox, and I expect it’s the same for many writers.
We need silence and solitude in order to do what we do, but we also need readers and listeners to take in our words so that we understand what we think and know someone else does, too.
Joan Didion’s words in her essay “Why I Write” come closest to my own thoughts on the subject. Like her, I do not think in abstracts, and I often do not know what I feel until I can put it into words. And yet, I cannot begin to do that unless I am alone a good part of every day. This is our challenge, I suppose.
Do you find that you need to write or speak to find your thoughts and feelings? Do you also find that you need solitude and silence to find these words? How do you balance this paradox?